The Character of a Methodist: Sermon Series

Today at First United Methodist Church we began a new sermon series called the Character of a Methodist. The sermon series is based on an essay or treatise by John Wesley titled the same. You find this work by John Wesley here. Wesley’s words are quite interesting and challenging. The essay is not long and I would invite you to read it.

The next five weeks at the church we will be using this work of Wesley as well as the lectionary to focus on how we can deepen our faith. When the religious leaders challenged Jesus on the law and which law was most important he said, “The first is, “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” The second is this, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” There is no other commandment greater than these.’” (Mark 12: 29-31)

On this Sunday, we celebrated the Baptism of Jesus by remembering our own baptism and focusing on loving God with all our hearts. Each person received a prayer word to focus their hearts in God over the next year. Over the next few weeks we will also ponder and focus on loving God with all our souls, with all our minds, our strength and our neighbors as ourself.

You can watch today’ service here.  If you would like a prayer word, please e-mail me or send a facebook message. I will be glad to provide a prayer word for 2018 for you.

 

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Speaking out

I am tired. I don’t know about you, but I am weary of the hate-filled rhetoric. There are many times I might have blogged, but chose not to. I,often, have no words, I who am supposed to have a “word” for everything. I am a preacher after all, and am called to have something to say in times of joy, in times of sadness, in times of uncertainty, in times when words seem to fail.

I often have had to something to say, when there has been horrible violence:

Horror and Violence in the nth degree

Prayers for Paris,  

Another Shooting

When there are times that are anxious:

Anxiety, Fear, and Rumors of Wars

When I am upset and overwhelmed by racism or sexism:

Standing up, Speaking Out, Praying for Peace

#MeToo

And my blogging started years ago with the shooting of Dr. George Tiller and then the shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Gifford in a post:

Words Matter

Today, once again, I KNOW that words matter, that denigrating human beings and their homelands is bad, period. I can not be the only tired of the words that are coming from our nation’s capital. Words matter, language matters, manners matter and holding one’s self to a higher standard matters. It matters when the president of the United States does not condemn racist language or hateful speech. It matters when the president of the United States uses twitter to belittle other people, to bully other people, to make policy statements or post anything untrue. Words matter, even on twitter, even in private meetings about immigration.

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As an “old pastor,” one who has been around for a while, I often talk with new clergy about things that matter, words, certainly, but also dress and behavior and the higher standard to which we are held. It isn’t fair, it isn’t! When I was young, I lived in a very small town and not long after I was there, some of the people came to talk to me about how I dressed when coming downtown to pick up my mail. I saw nothing wrong with wearing shorts and a t-shirt. Some people saw it differently and said they didn’t want to be embarrassed to introduce me as their pastor.

Did that upset me? You bet it did. However, I decided as a young clergy woman, I had enough strikes me against me that I didn’t want my appearance or my clothing to distract from my service, my work, my calling, my ministry. I probably over dressed for a long time, but no one ever said they were embarrassed again about the way I dressed.

I also over the years have become aware that my facial expressions, my aside comments, my overheard comments and critiques can also be incredibly damaging. I confess, I have not always done well or that I don’t still fail pretty regularly. Rolling my eyes at things I think are ridiculous, making comments about situations or people, these are not only unhelpful, they are wrong and hurtful.

Anyone in public service, whether ministry, or teaching, or government are held to a higher standard of behavior and they should be. We are called to be leaders, we are called to thoughtful rhetoric. That doesn’t mean we have to agree with everyone. It doesn’t mean there can not be deeply held beliefs that are divisive. It doesn’t mean there can’t be heated argument, debate and disagreement.

What it does mean is that WORDS MATTER. Using offensive language to describe a person’s home country, making insulting and derogatory comments about human beings is unacceptable as a public servant, or for anyone. The Council of Bishops of the United Methodist Church have made this statement about the offensive remarks .

I would invite the President, but more importantly all of us to re-think how we behave in private and in public. What he says, what we say can make a difference for good or ill, for peace or violence, for what is right and what is wrong. As a follower of Jesus, I am convicted that I must stand against racism, bigotry and words that incite hatred and violence.

My words matter, as do all of ours. I call on all of us to stand up against hatred, against racism, against any language that is used to put down, bully or insult other human beings regardless of their race, their age, their nationality, their gender, their orientation, their religion. I, we, can do better than this. Let us choose justice, let us choose goodness, let us choose a higher road and a higher standard for our behavior.

 

 

 

 

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Celebrating Epiphany: The Challenge of Faith

Today at First United Methodist Church we celebrate the Visitation of the Magi or the Feast of Epiphany. In many other churches, particularly those who attend worship on the actual day, January 6, today was the baptism of Jesus. We will celebrate that next week.

This morning, was another moment to breathe and to immerse ourselves in the incarnation, Emmanuel, God-with-us. The story in Matthew 2 is a complex and deeper story then we often believe. The Christmas season and Epiphany are no just sentimental stories that are cute and sweet.

At the heart of them is a God who enters a world filled with violence and hatred and pain. God comes in Christ not when the world ready or perfect, but when the world is broken and needs grace. In worship today, we focused on Epiphany not only as a festival, but as a season where God’s light is there for all. You can watch our worship service in its entirety here: Downtown Alive

As with most Epiphany services, I ended the sermon with Howard Thurman’s poem:

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May these words come true this year! A blessed Epiphany!

 

 

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On the Twelfth Day of Christmas

I am always amazed at how quickly the the twelve days of Christmas fly by. I am not unaware that many people don’t care. Or that the twelve days are used as a countdown to December 25 with sales and promotions all trying to get people to buy more for that first day of Christmas.

In the stores, on the radio and television stations and internet sites, not many care about Christmas after the 25th of December. Oh, there are sales galore, but Valentine’s hearts and flowers are already seen and the next push for sales. Christmas becomes not so much a season as an exercise in surviving too many parties, too many crowds, too much food and drink and often too much money spent on things that do not matter and are easily broken and forgotten

As a pastor, the time leading up to December 25 is filled with year end meetings, extra worship planning, a few more services and events for the church. There are more parties and open houses than I could ever hope to attend and this year, in the midst of Advent, Andrew and I had the joy of celebrating the marriage of one of our children in California. The Advent season itself was shorter, just three weeks, with the fourth Sunday of Advent also being Christmas eve.

All of that is a way of explaining why the twelve days of Christmas are precious to me. I try to savor them, each day. In years past, FAR past, the twelve days were filled with the parties and visits and meals and general “gaiety” we now celebrate prior to December 25. Advent at that time was a period for fasting and penitence and reflection on the incarnation, of God’s gift in Christ. The twelfth day of Christmas is the transition into Epiphany on January 6 (the visitation of the magi, the wise men and a season of celebrating that God is manifest to humanity, ALL of humanity.)

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For those who love trivia, many Orthodox churches celebrate Christmas day on January 7 because aligns with the old Julian calendar and in a dozen or so countries that is a day off and a holiday. I won’t go into detail as it has to do with the switch in calendars from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar.

So the Feast of the Epiphany in the Western is tomorrow on January 6. Epiphany, as a holiday is to celebrate the manifestation of the Christ to the Gentiles (or to all people and all nations). As a word, it means a revelation or an insight. In the midst of the twelve days what has been revealed to me? What insight have gained from the celebration of Christmas?

A friend of mine posted this picture on Facebook to honor the visitation of the Magi. It is from the Catacombs in Rome, specifically of Priscilla.

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This was probably done in the 2nd century. From the earliest days, this event, of magi, wise ones, star gazers from the east was an important event to remember. Christianity has in its beginnings an understanding that Emmanuel, God-with-us is not an exclusive event or for just a few. Christ came for all, that all might experience the love and grace of God.

So on this twelfth day of Christmas, I am seeking insight and wisdom on how God’s love can be made real and true in my life and spirit. I am looking for God’s presence in the word and like Mary, I am pondering all of these things in my heart. Merry Christmas and may Epiphany bring us all new insight and a revelation of God in our midst.

 

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2018, New Year, New Possibilities

Yesterday, in the Wichita Eagle, Suzanne Perez Tobias wrote two articles on a challenge for the New Year. I believe she did the same last year, but memory may fail me. This year’s challenge was to read twelve books each in a different category. I remember last year thinking what a great idea, but this year I think I have decided to take the challenge.

It is easy for me to read a great deal for work, to read a variety of news sources and occasionally some novels. The truth is, I LOVE to read and do not give myself enough permission to read just for fun. Reading for work can be fun, but sometimes I just want to get lost in a book, not to produce a sermon or a study guide or any other writings I may be doing.

I read a great deal in order to produce a sermon every week and to research for the study I produce for the sermon each week. This challenge of Suzanne Perez Tobias is different. This challenge will encourage me to get out of the usual genres that I tend to read. You can read the article in its entirety here.

The twelve categories of books are: A library book, a detective novel or true crime, a book about reading or writing, a book set somewhere you’ve never been, a book recommended/given/loaned to you by a friend, a book with an animal on the the cover, a graphic novel, an essay or short story collection, a book by an author of a different ethnicity than you, a book about a topic in the news, a book published the year you were born and a book written by an author slated to visit Wichita in 2018.

Here is a picture of a  few of the books I am considering:

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I am not really a “resolution” kind of person, but I do enjoy a good challenge. This one is right up my alley. They have created a facebook group #ReadICT that I have joined in order to get some good suggestions.

Reading is good for my mind, my soul, and the whole of who I am and called to be. As 2018 begins, I am looking forward to growing in grace and experiencing again what a wonderful world God has created and is creating.

 

 

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Confirmation Sunday, 2017

In a world that seems to have gone mad, we, I look for hope. After last week’s mass shooting at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, I was grief stricken, devastated. I felt like I should write something, but I had no words. I guess, I just weary of one more horrific, violent act and they seem to come faster and faster and faster.

Sunday, November 12 as confirmation Sunday at First United Methodist Church had been on the calendar since mid-summer. There was no way I could or would change what our six confirmands had been praying, studying and preparing for all these weeks. And yet, I did have concern that we were not addressing what was happening in the world. But then again, I was not going to hijack this service.

I have pretty much done confirmation Sunday the same way most of my ministry. Those who are being confirmed, choose the hymns/choruses/music and write their own statement of belief (which becomes the proclamation of the word.) They lead worship and are baptized if they have not been, anointed and brought into full membership. Each class is asked if they would like the sacrament of Holy Communion as part of the service and in all my years, not one class has said no. They then serve the congregation as their first act of ministry as full members.

You can view the entire service through this link. I believe if you watch it, you will be blessed by this wonderful group of youth. Their ages range from eighth grade through eleventh grade. They have wonderful minds, deep spirits and a love of God and neighbor. I was deeply blessed to work with them with my associate Pastor Rebecca Goltry Mohr, our interim youth director Joe Mohr, our children’s ministry director Patricia Tristan, El Mesias pastor Pastor Sergio Tristan and their mentors Corey Godbey, Nancy McKellar and Nancy Herrin.

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The willingness of these young people to place their faith in God, to become members of a church and to offer their gifts is a testament to hope and I believe a sign that God is at work transforming the world. It doesn’t take away from the pain or grief or horror that is often made manifest in the world, but yesterday reminded me that there are more good people doing loving than things, than bad people doing evil. I will hold on to that faith That God is at work and that love will triumph over hate. These confirmands renewed that faith and that hope. I am blessed by their witness.

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All Saints 2017

Each year I am moved by All Saints Sunday, which for many Protestants is celebrated on the first Sunday of November. Names are read, candles lit and we remember. This year at First United Methodist Church we lit thirty three candles for each member that had died since November 1, 2016. Thirty three….members, that does not include all the family members and friends and others that have died and affected our congregation. We light a thirty fourth candles to include all those others, plus those who have suffered pregnancy losses.

Here is the link to today’s worship service. The music was wonderful, the candles beautiful, just being together to remember powerful.

Every year as I light candles I remember ALL those saints who have gone before, those family members and friends whom I still miss. I will continue to pray for those currently walking the fresh valley of grief, those who are transitioning from this life to next. Life is good, but sometimes it is hard and filled with ups and downs.

On this day, I grateful for all the saints, for that great cloud of witnesses that have gone before us, and the comfort and grace of God that goes with us on journey.

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